Have you ever tried to pet an unknown dog you just met or barely know over the top of its head? Do you notice that it follows your hand as it approaches and often time use its head and mouth to avoid your hand? It might reject the hand to the point of seeming to bite, gently if it is a well-behaved dog or more roughly if it is not? Most puppies won’t allow it at all and begin to bite or play immediately as you reach for them. There are good reasons for this.
A pat on the head is a humanistic way of saying I love or like you and you are my kind of dog and let’s be friends. This gesture has a completely different meaning to a dog. It starts with the hand. Dogs do not have hands. If a dog wants to pick something up, protect itself or be aggressive, play (a form of learning or using prey drive) for predators or eat, they use their mouths. We humans have a more varied use for our hands. An owner is different. After weeks, months or years with our dogs, they get used to our hands coming from nowhere and reaching over their heads. They even learn to like this form of affection from owners or friends and relatives From a stranger or even someone slightly known, the hand is a threatening gesture of a mouth-like form, reaching over the top of its head, going out of sight to present an unknown danger. So, using the theory that a human hand is tantamount to a mouth from a dog’s viewpoint, no wonder dog’s will greet a human nicely when the human offers an open hand, one the dog can sniff to process the emotional state of the human to determine if it is friend or foe. It through its pheromone and hormone production that a dog can determine this, along with a myriad of other signs related to sound and body language. It may take a minute or two. I am suggesting to humans that they offer a polite greeting, without a threatening gesture. First offer an open hand, low enough to be on a plane low enough to be on nose level. Scratches under the chin, on the chest, under the ear can follow and then, after the dog is familiar enough with you, scratches to the base of the tail, back and once the dog gets to know you or it offers it, belly rubs. Until it allows it or seemingly doesn’t mind it, an occasional pat on the head should be fine
When we feel love for our dogs, we secrete happy hormones. As a result, we want to touch and show affection. We must consider the effect these actions take on our dogs. When we give attention to our dogs they also fill up with happy hormones. If we are training or trying to establish a leadership relationship with the dog, which is an essential part of the human-dog relationship, the giving of physical attention may interfere with training and leadership. The giving of physical love or praise should be given to your dog with leadership in mind. If the dog has established ways of demanding and getting this attention, we are making our dogs more of the leader. When we have established the dog as the leader we are in a sense, the lapdog, the one that pleases the dog at its beck and call. Leadership carries responsibility and that pressure may be too much for your dog and it will have a negative effect on its relationship with you in a number of ways. This is when staring, petting, hugging or any kind of praise or attention eats away at leadership We, of course, should be affectionate with our dogs, but it should be done in a way not to compromise leadership. The phrase: nothing in life is free (NILIF) should be adapted to training your dog. It should be employed as it relates to praising and rewarding desired behavior. I am not suggesting that you love your dog less. Just be the leader. Be mindful of the effect you are having on your dog through giving too much attention or affection. It can be too much of a good thing.